Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Duplicity

I happened to catch DUPLICITY this weekend and my review of it runs pretty much in line with everyone else who saw it. Julia Roberts has finally found a role she can just have fun with as the Machiavellian ex-CIA agent Claire Stenwick. But watching her play sharp and conniving against all those years of sweet and cute is hard to enjoy when you’re scratching your head trying to find out what the heck is going on.

You see, Claire has not left the CIA for a gig helping a multi-billion-dollar cosmetics firm protect its secrets. Or has she? In fact, she and a one-time lover and ex-MI6 agent, Ray Koval (Clive Owen), are forced to work together by a rival firm to steal her company’s biggest secret. Or are they?

From a writer’s perspective, there are too many reversals to keep track of, with not enough edge to muster any urgency. Who’s plotting against whom? What’s really going? Why should we care?

DUPLICITY looks like it was a fun movie to make, with a lot of laughing in between takes. And like the OCEANS’ 11-13 trilogy, you get the sense that the cast is sharing some private joke without sharing it with the audience. As a comedy, it falls flat because it depends too much on the lackluster chemistry of its two leads. And it takes a comedy powerhouse like Paul Giamatti and wastes him as a flat, blustery CEO with no depth. For me, the funniest scene in this movie is the one where Giamatti and his arch-rival, played by Tom Wilkinson, are slugging it out in front of their private jets, and they don’t have another scene together for the whole movie.

The big issue with this movie is that it doesn’t connect to the audience’s empathy. It’s about two mega-corporations trying to screw each other, and two conniving spies trying to screw them both for a zillion bucks so they never have to work again. Director Tony Gilroy was obviously looking to go lighter after the dour MICHAEL CLAYTON, but presents an overly complicated story that is fun enough if the audience tries hard enough.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Hi, folks! My name is Steve Emmerson. Up until last December, I worked as an assistant for an entertainment company for three years. I did lots of things there, like reading scripts of films that need to close their financing with foreign distribution agreements and screening movies that still need distribution. Film school is no substitute for experience. Some people do these blogs anonymously, but I need a new job so I have to get my name and contact info out there as much as I can. My email address is stephen.t.emmerson@gmail.com.

Movies and scripts are my great loves. What you'll be seeing on here will be mainly things like movie reviews, thoughts on how to make scripts better, discussion of major goings-on within the industry, and probably just random thoughts and gripes.

First up, I recently picked up a script reader gig reading scripts of movies that are going to be made and still need a little financing. The last one I read was a likely direct-to-video sequel of a thriller from the late '90s. I can't get into specifics because I don't want to lose the gig. My main issue with it was the same issue that a lot of sequels have: not as much bite as the original and too similar to the original story. Also, it was an ensemble piece that did not give enough development to critical characters.

The lesson is this this: A sequel is still a separate story from the original movie. Use the same characters, themes, and elements, but you have to tell a different story, one that ratchets up the stakes and urgency. It should feel like the first film set the stage for a sharper, edgier sequel to supplant it. Think of DARK KNIGHT vs. BATMAN BEGINS.

That's all I can think of for now. In closing, since I like pictures let me include a poster from my all-time favorite movie (also a guide on how to write a proper crime screenplay): THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Whatever you thought of THE WAY OF THE GUN and VALKYRIE, you have to give Christopher McQuarrie props for range.